Review: ROCK OF AGES. Book by Chris D’Arienzo. Arrangements and Orchestrations by Ethan Popp. Music Direction by Matt Perri. Directed and Choreographed by Lisa Shriver. Scenic Design by Matt Smucker. Costume Design by Cathy Meacham Hunt. Lighting Design by Elizabeth Harper. Sound Design by David Patridge and John Shivers. With Nicholas Japaul Bernard, Kristin Burch, Sarah Rose Davis, Nick DeSantis, Galen Disston, Eric Dobson, Lauren Du Pree, Nik Hagen, Diana Huey, Jason Kappus, Felicia Loud, Trina Mills, Brandon O’Neill, Richard Peacock, Sara Porkalob, Dane Stokinger, Nicholas Tarabini, and Mickey Thomas. Now through February 24, 2019 at the 5th Avenue Theatre.
It really does have the worst plot and dumbest dialogue. Yet, ROCK OF AGES is the ultimate jukebox musical success story. It began in 2005 in Los Angeles and made its way to Off-Broadway in 2008, then Broadway the following year, and got turned into a movie starring Tom Cruise in 2012. For those of you in the dark, it’s the show built around class rock songs from the 1980s, including hits from Journey, Styx, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, Poison and Steve Perry. Naturally, the plot concocted to string all these songs together, centers on a boy with rock star dreams named Drew, (working as a busboy) and a “small town girl” named Sherrie with actress dreams who meet up in a dingy rock n’ roll bar called The Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip circa 1987.
Their road to happiness is paved with numerous bumps, including evil German developers wanting to tear down the Sunset Strip. There’s also rock legend Stacee Jax, who got his start in the club, and his huge sized ego to deal with, alongside adorable metal heads, neighborhood strippers, snaky record executives, and crusading protesters trying to save the club, the Strip and the right to rock ‘n’ roll all night long.
It’s so very silly. The dialogue is clunky, the plot is threadbare and the characters are mostly cardboard. There’s hoary old tricks like breaking the 4th wall with the show’s narrator, Lonny Barrett, the manager of The Bourbon Room frequently talking directly to the audience. It doesn’t make much sense. It’s the type of terrible book for a musical that makes you want to walk up to the writer/creator of Rock of Ages, Chris D’Arienzo and poke him in the chest and get all “J’accuse” with him and snarl, “Your book is terrible, man!”
And, at that point, Mr. D’Arienzo probably just smiles and says, as he walks away and gets into his limo, “Yeah…I’m crying all the way to the bank about that…”
It’s still fun. RIDICULOUS amounts of fun, if you like middle of the road rock music from the ’80s performed by very talented singers and musicians , it’s a VERY good time at the theater…like lucking out when you go to a karaoke night on a Monday and the place is full of trained theater singers belting out favorite songs on their night off. And, that’s the sole reason to check out the 5th Avenue Theatre’s currently running production of Rock of Ages. You don’t go for the script or the comedy hijink or the charm of the characters…you go because you really enjoy hearing Diana Huey and Galen Disston belting out “Sister Christian” and “Waiting for a Girl Like You” and “Don’t Stop Believin'”. It’s that simple.
Besides Ms Huey, a longtime star at the 5th, and Mr. Disston, who’s not actually a trained actor but the lead singer for the band Pickwick, the cast also includes a whole slew of very talented performers, including Dane Stokinger as the shaggy but charming narrator, Lonny and Brandon O’Neill as the over the top rock diva, Stacee Jax as well as Nick DeSantis as the villainous German developer. They’re all quite good as is Sarah Porkalob as the earnest young activist and Felicia Loud as the strip club owner with a heart of gold, both making their 5th Avenue debuts. There’s even a genuine old school 80s rocker on board, Mickey Thomas from Starship playing the club owner, Dennis with great charm.
But, it’s Nik Hagen as the effete younger German developer, Franz who gets to stop the show with his big number, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”…the combination of his singing, strong dance skills and perfect comedy timing managed to shut down the show for a good minute or more. Really, it’s Mr. Hagen’s big number and the big belting voices of Ms Huey and Mr. Disston that are the chief reasons to go and check out Rock of Ages. They’re worth the price of admission…and, make up for the dopey plot and the sloppy staging by director Lisa Shriver who also choreographed. She also lets some of the cast chew the scenery a bit more than it’s really necessary. Sure, there’s a tendency to overplay weakly written parts and material, but…a tougher director would have reined in some of the more excessive mugging on display at times.
In a nutshell: if you’re not into 1980s rock and messy musicals, this is not your show. If you like 1980s rock and enjoy “singers in a (theatrical) smokey room…with the smell of wine and cheap perfume…looking for a smile that can share the night that goes on and on and on and on and…